Syria, and the Mullahs sitting on the throne in Tehran seem to be losing the conflict in its entirety.
An increasing number of reports are sprouting from Iran’s state-run news outlets covering the deaths of senior officers such as the likes of General Hossein Hamedani, Revolutionary Guards Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani being seriously wounded in the neck, and ordinary mercenaries hired and/or dispatched from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan dying in the dozens each day. These reports, shedding light on a small corner of the issue, reveal that Iran has lost at least 67 of its foot-soldiers since the beginning of October alone. What is also very alarming for Tehran is the fact that its senior officers are losing grip on the entire scene in Syria and this has Assad’s troops retreating despite heavy air cover provided by Moscow.
No so long ago Iranian state-run media kept their silence over the regime’s military campaign in Syria in support of Assad. However, as circumstances have changed and Iranian soldiers re seen participating in a new Russian-led initiative against Syria opposition fighters, the Mullahs in Tehran concluded that it is in fact in their newly founded interest to actually report their forces involvement in the Levant. Why? Because Moscow is gaining the upper hand in Syria, pushing Tehran aside and robbing the Mullahs’ of their hegemony and final say with Assad.
Russia, an ally of Assad with large interests in Syria, began its air strikes against mostly moderate rebels on September 30th. Just two months down the road, however, it has become quite clear that Russia is pushing Iran aside as the main party alongside Assad, and also participating in talks with the West. Rest assured that Iran watched very closely and with deep concerns the 35-minute talk between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Turkey.
Considering the Assad regime as extremely vital for implementing its sphere of influence across the Middle East, and most specifically providing support for Hezbollah in Lebanon through ground routes, Tehran has long been acting as a very crucial military and financial supporter of Bashar Assad.
Assad established a pro-regime militia entity to back the exhausted and broken down military, all with the support provided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. With a population of over 98% Shiite Muslims, Tehran has gone a step further by ordering thousands of Shiites from Iraq, Lebanon and beyond to “rise to their duties” and fight off the Sunni-led rebellion in Syria.
Described as “advisers” or “volunteers” dispatched to Syria to protect Shiite sanctuaries, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) members and fellow militia personnel play a role in Syria that is generally not portrayed to such an extent and they try to keep their heads low. However, things are changing.
While there may be no exact reports on how many Iranians are actually fighting in support of Assad in Syria, the Iranian opposition has cited sources inside the regime saying 7,000 Revolutionary Guards members are now in Syria. Furthermore, the number of Iran’s official and militia forces fighting in “direct combat” backed by Russian airstrikes is on the rise. This can explain why Iran is suffering more casualties each day.
Washington has for years followed a policy of excluding Tehran from talks over Middle East matters, and especially the future of Syria due to the Mullahs’ backing of Bashar Assad. But in October Iran was allowed to join a regional meeting where reports from inside the regime indicate Tehran signed over many incentives on the future of Assad in Syria.
Iran is fueling anti-Shiite sentiment that ISIS in Syria thrives on. Iran’s Mullahs have launched major propaganda about the Syria war and the need to join the fight, yet many Iranians are not exactly aware that Iran’s forces are fighting other rebels and not ISIS at all.
As the downing of a Russian warplane near the Syria-Turkey border has proven that the conflict is escalating more than ever towards a turning point, Iran is beginning to feel the pain. The West, and especially Washington, needs to realize that Iran must be hit where it hurts, and the catch is that there is no need for a significant deployment of American or NATO troops at all.
Moscow must also come to realize that its strategic interests are not in a short-lived, doomed alliance with Damascus. The Obama administration has to once and for all decide to provide constructive and effective support for the moderate Syrian opposition, most notably the Free Syrian Army. If so, these local Syrians are more than capable of toppling Assad and then taking care of business with ISIS.
Iran is beginning to understand the inevitable costs of supporting Assad. It is high time for the West to realize the opportunity, and after the Paris massacre, the dire necessity to form a serious coalition, unite and back all Syrian opposition forces in their quest to take out Assad and rid their country of ISIS.
Iran is losing the war in Syria, and they just need a push.
Keyvan Salami tweets on @salamikeyvan